Gloria Swanson, as Norma Desmond, an aging silent-film queen, and William Holden, as the struggling young screenwriter who is held in thrall by her madness, created two of the screen's most memorable characters in "Sunset Boulevard." Winner of three Academy Awards-®, director Billy Wilder's powerful orchestration of the bizarre tale is a true cinematic classic. From the unforgettable opening sequence -- a body found floating in a decayed mansion's swimming pool -- through the inevitable unfolding of tragic destiny, "Sunset Boulevard" is the definitive statement on the dark and desperate side of Hollywood. Erich von Stroheim as Desmond's discoverer, ex-husband and butler, and Nancy Olson as the bright spot amidst unrelenting ominousness, are equally celebrated for their masterful performances.
The Centennial Collections edition of Sunset Boulevard
includes a second disc of supplementary materials that deserves a review of its own. Over 16 biopics, short documentaries, still photo galleries, and more offer viewers the chance to look at Wilders masterpiece through a scrupulous critical lens. These extras will appeal to not only fans who want behind-the-scenes anecdotal gossip but also to those interested in how the film was made and the movie industry climate during the making of this "movie about the movies," as author Joseph Wambaugh calls it in his featurette, "The Noir Side of Sunset Boulevard." For fans of the actors there are two glimpses into the stars personal lives and careers, "Two Sides of Gloria Swanson" and "Mad About the Boy: Portrait of William Holden." Though archival interview footage of Gloria Swanson is more ample in the short "Sunset Boulevard Becomes A Classic," "Two Sides" features Swansons granddaughter, Brooke Anderson, who remembers Swanson as a kind-hearted, hard working, elegant health nut. Actress Linda Harrison, who worked with Swanson on set, remembers her graciousness under the spotlight. While these type of second-hand biopics typically feel residual, Swansons is unique in that it aims to separate the monstrous character in the film from the actual woman, due to Sunset Boulevards
meta-narrative in which she plays an embittered version of herself, nostalgic for a past era. For production detail, there are more than enough shorts about Paramount studios, 1950s Hollywood, and behind the scenes still photos. These topics have been well-documented in books, however, and more interesting are the two shorts about the look and sound of the film. The documentary about Franz Waxmans score starring his son, John, is fascinating, as it discusses Waxmans beginnings in Germany studying classical music. Moreover, "Edith Head: The Paramount Years," follows her biographer through a photo tour of this legendary costume designers films and career path, in which she started as an wardrobe assistant and graduated to more advanced jobs after successfully dressing picky actress, Clara Bow.
Also highly notable are the featurettes "Stories of Sunset Boulevard" and "Sunset Boulevard Becomes a Classic," because of their mixture of interviews with actors (Nancy Olson as "Betty Schaefer"), critics (Andrew Sarris), and Wilders biographer, Ed Sikov. "Stories" opens with the facts surrounding the films original opening and its cut script, namely the morgue scene in which the corpses speak to each other. It then proceeds to describe how the opening scene we know and love, namely Joe Gillis floating face down in the swimming pool, was made before waterproof cameras were the norm. Ed Sikovs commentary during the screening of the film, as well, is rich with details about Wilders directorial efforts. These insider notes and educational feauturettes inspire one to consider just how much consciously planned construction goes into a film that screens as a flawless story. --Trinie Dalton